Plant Tour: Miller Poultry

by Bob Sims
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The management at Miller Poultry embraces teamwork and dedication to the extreme, and everyone benefits.
 
The Orland, Indiana, plant where Miller Poultry currently processes 650,000 to 660,000 chickens a week celebrated its 25th anniversary in May of this year, but the Miller family’s entry into the poultry business dates back to the 1940s. The parents and an uncle of current president, Galen Miller, bought a feed mill in nearby Goshen, Indiana, and converted it into a turkey processing facility.

The Goshen facility hatched and processed turkeys up through 1974 and then it sat empty until 1978. It was at that point when the Miller family started hatching chicks and has been ever since. By the mid-90s, the business had purchased and begun work on the Orland processing plant and the Goshen property was completely converted over to only hatching chicks.

Building the Business


Before Miller Poultry bought the plant in Orland, it had been a small custom operation that processed some tray-pack poultry products for local grocery stores and for owners of “backyard” flocks who did not want to butcher their own birds. The week before Miller bought the plant it processed 24,000 birds. During Miller’s first week of ownership, the plant processed 20,000 birds and the next week 16,000. “It wasn’t going the right way,” Miller says. “Fortunately, it bottomed out at about 15,000 or 16,000 a week.”

 
Currently, Miller Poultry runs at about 75 percent capacity to match sales volume.
 
Twenty-five years later, the company’s numbers are up significantly. According to Kevin Diehl, director of plant operations, the facility now processes 650,000 to 660,000 birds a week. “So, that’s pretty good growth in 25 years,” Miller adds. And while Miller Poultry doesn’t set production goals or sales goals per se, the reason for the company’s growth comes from its unique way of successfully growing its customer base first, then increasing production.

“I think more of our history has been identifying what customers we would like to partner with and going down that path,” Diehl says, “and then upping production to the level we need to service those customers more so than having goals of certain numbers and trying to force it out into the market.”

Miller adds that while running at 100 percent capacity is often looked at by business as the most efficient and cost-effective way to operate a facility, focusing on customers and sales has kept Miller’s growth in control. “Right now, for example, on our first processing, we’re at about 75 percent capacity,” he says. “We don’t really want to grow that until we know there are secured sales for that additional volume.”

 
In the plant's 25 years it has grown to process between 650,000 and 660,000 birds a week.
 
Miller’s growth has been steady over time, “three to five percent a year maybe,” Miller says, with some 20 to 25 percent spurts here and there. The company’s relationship-based focus on customers bleeds into its philosophy on personnel. Miller Poultry’s company culture matters greatly to everyone involved. It’s a tight-knit team – a family that relies on and trusts one another deeply. The company follows the edict of hiring the right people first, and then teaching the skill set necessary.

Stephen Shepard, vice president of live operations, came to Miller Poultry from the poultry industry and shows much enthusiasm for the location, company, culture and most importantly, the difference between Miller and the larger players in the industry. “We love our jobs,” Shepard says, and adds that the true teamwork he experiences with Miller provides security and peace of mind. Shepard’s current task is getting the breeder program started, the last piece to Miller Poultry being self-sufficient. He says it should be up and running by March of 2018.

But while company culture, teamwork and personnel contribute to Miller Poultry and its success, it also represents the company’s biggest challenge.

 
Miller's mentor program pairs new hires with established employees. 
 

Goshen and Orland, Indiana, are situated in a region considered a hotbed of recreational vehicle (RV) manufacturing and has been since the mid-1960s. This makes procuring and retaining skilled labor in the plant difficult. The plant itself resides in a low population area with most coming from Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and Michigan.

“Labor is by far the largest issue that we face on a daily basis,” Diehl says. “From that point, I think the next biggest challenge we face on a daily basis is the product segregation of the antibiotic free, non-GMO and organic. That’s a continual struggle.”

Miller utilizes an employee mentor program for new workers on the plant floor in which a senior employee is assigned to the new one and acts as a mentor. The mentorship includes everything from introductions to others, job training, help with navigating the plant and more. This lasts about two weeks until the new hire is comfortable.

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READER COMMENTS (1)

By STEVE GORDON 7/14/2017 1:16:39 PM
A well written story about a poultry company focused on quality and the steady growth achieved through hard work. They have a constant labor shortage challenge and have an innovative new employee mentor program to help retain new employees. I wonder how they're doing at Conserving Water?